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Nokia Lumia 925 review: First metal Lumia gets it right

T-Mobile's partially metal Lumia 925 is the best -- and best-looking -- Windows Phone handset you can get today. Too bad it's already obsolete.

Jessica Dolcourt
Jessica Dolcourt Editorial Director / CNET Franchises, How-To, Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Franchises, How-To and Performance Optimization teams. Her career with CNET began in 2006, and spans reviews, reporting, analysis and commentary for desktop software; mobile software, including the very first Android and iPhone apps and operating systems; and mobile hardware, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of practical advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).

Expertise Team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
8 min read

Of the three phones in Nokia's US Lumia 920 lineup -- the Nokia Lumia 925, 920, and 928 -- T-Mobile's and AT&T's 925 has the best hardware design, hands down. (And yes, the Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel camera tops them all.)


Nokia Lumia 925

The Good

Nokia's <b>Lumia 925</b> has a sleek, slim, partially aluminum build. Its camera takes great shots, especially in low light conditions, and the LTE smartphone comes in at an affordable price.

The Bad

The Lumia 925 is a little wide and squat, and sharp corners diminish handheld comfort. T-Mobile's version has 16GB of storage instead of 32GB.

The Bottom Line

Nokia's lovely Lumia 925 delivers a high-end Windows Phone experience, but camera snobs with deep pockets should hold out for AT&T's Lumia 1020.

Slimmer than the rest, the 925 also made with premium aluminum elements and has a tight fit and finish that approaches the pristine finesse of HTC's One. Nokia pumps up the buttoned-up feel by backing off the Lumia's screaming colors and muting the palette to white, black, and gray. A few design quibbles chip away at the effect, though, like edges that seem sharp despite the phone's curved spines.

A competent camera with terrific low-light performance backs up the rakish appearance of this global flagship, which has the same OS and apps as the other top Lumia phones. Still, T-Mobile and AT&T customers should feel smug with this great-looking Windows 8 phone option, which costs $49.99 down ($529.99 all in) with T-Mo and $99.99 on-contract with AT&T.

The lovely Nokia Lumia 925's metal design (pictures)

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Design and build
Silvery aluminum trim frames the 925 in the first Lumia to use metal, but the matte plastic backing lashes it to the Lumia family of unibody polycarbonate phones. The design looks good: slim (0.33 inch thick) and clean with very few gaps, and black bands on the spines for accent.

The deep-black glossy screen looks lush and deep; and on the right, aluminum buttons that control volume, power/lock, and the camera button pop out to meet probing fingers. When I hold the phone, its wider dimensions -- 5.1 inches tall by 2.8 inches wide stretch across -- can make the buttons stick out into the hand, even though I like that they're not flush. Unlike the HTC One, the 925's back doesn't bow enough to curve into your palm, so it doesn't feel quite as snug.

Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia's metal Lumia 925 is a looker. James Martin/CNET

I did notice that the white version picked up smudges and discoloration on the back panel, but the schmutz usually rubbed away with a little water and a little muscle.

At 4.9 ounces, the 925 is substantially weighty, not wispy. The phone is a little wide for some pockets, but toss it into a deep pocket or a purse and it's just as portable as any superphone.

Like the other 920 series phones, the 925 has a 4.5 inch WXGA screen with a 1,280x768-pixel resolution. It has the ClearBlack filter for reducing outdoor glare, Gorilla Glass 2 for scratch resistance, and a sensitive touch screen you can navigate with long fingernails or gloves. The AMOLED screen technology means colors pop bright and blacks look rich and deep. Microsoft's graphical Windows Phone design looks great in this treatment, and so do photos, videos, games, and images on Web sites.

Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia grouped the ports at the top to keep the left spine and bottom clear. Volume, power, and camera controls live on the right. Sarah Tew/CNET

Below the display, Windows Phone's three capacitive buttons handle navigation and pull up extra tools, like voice search and task-switching. Above it, you'll find the front-facing camera. Nokia has been making phones for so long, it's a little disappointing that the 925 and other Lumias lack an indicator light on the front to clue you into charging status and alerts.

Keeping it classy, the 925 groups its headset, charging, and Micro-SIM card ports up top. On the back, the stylized camera module pops out slightly, topped by a dual-LED flash.

OS and features
Running Windows Phone 8, the 925's software doesn't deviate from the other Lumia phones. There's NFC support, Bluetooth 3.0 (which could soon turn into Bluetooth 4.0), and the whole host of connectivity and OS features.

One difference from the 920 and 928 is that there's no integrated wireless charging, which is part of what makes this phone slimmer around the midsection. Instead, you can purchase an aftermarket snap-on cover, which does come in screaming colors if you miss them.

On the apps front, Nokia continues to give its phones an edge with the OS, offering up a heap of Nokia-only apps and services, like Music Mix radio. Its Here maps app just recently made the jump to all Windows phones, not just Nokia's. You can find more details on Nokia's apps in the Lumia 920 review.

Notable moments in Nokia camera phone history (pictures)

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Camera and video
With each new Lumia 900-series phone, Nokia has subtly changed and incrementally improved the camera's image quality. Like the rest, this one has an 8.7-megapixel lens with PureView processing algorithms.

Instead of the 928's Xenon bulb, the 925 returns to LED flash; two of them, in fact. This time around there's a sixth lens in the Carl Zeiss optical assembly, which Nokia says will take clearer daytime shots. In addition, you have a backside-illuminated image sensor, autofocus, and 4x digital zoom.

The camera app is pretty plain by default, but like all Nokia phones, it includes lenses for panorama and Nokia Smart Cam, which adds a load of effects you also see on top Android phones. You'll be able to edit photos as well.

Nokia Lumia 925
This 8.7-megapixel shooter has a sixth lens and great lowlight capabilities. James Martin/CNET

I was happy with most of the photos I took on the Lumia 925. They were bright, sharp, colorful, and detailed. Not every image packed in every detail, and some sunlit conditions would overwhelmed all the smartphone cameras I used.

Nokia continues to dominate the field in the quality of low-light shots that it takes. Even in very dark rooms with uneven lighting, the Lumia 925 uses its focus flash and image chips to the best effect, with HTC and the iPhone 5 a close second, and Samsung trailing behind, even when set to night mode.

The Lumia's 1080p HD video recorder also produces high-quality video that's smooth, colorful, and an adept tool to tell a visual story. For its part, the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera adopts a wide angle, and shoots in 720p HD video. The latter is great news for video chatters like me, and the wide angle should help with those selfies.

Exposure on the self-portraits can be a little off at times, with your face looking one color and the rest cast in another. Overall, though, the images were usable. CNET's image gallery offers up some comparisons of our studio shot.

Nokia Lumia 925
The Lumia 925 pumped out plenty of bright color on this tram, but missed some details of the moving vehicle. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 925
A typical San Francisco scene. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 925
There's some detail missing from this resized image of the Ferry Building. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 925
Here's a full resolution crop of the Ferry Building's famous spire. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 925
The Lumia 925 beautifully captured these shaded blooms. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia knows its way around low-light shots. Here's how it did on automatic mode, no flash. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Call quality
Nokia phones typically offer up high-quality calls, and the 925 (CDMA 850/900/1800/1900MHz) mostly stays the course, despite a few bobbles in my San Francisco tests.

Volume was strong on level 5 of 10, but voices weren't entirely clear on my end. For example, my main calling partner was intelligible, but didn't sound quite as sharp or as natural as usual. In addition to that, his voice sounded somewhat lispy and muted, almost gauzy. Still, we were able to carry on a long conversation and the line was completely clear of white noise, blips, and beeps.

On the other end of the line, volume was loud and strong. My audio came over a little distorted and mushy, my caller said, and sounded a bit flat and a tinge unnatural, maybe raspy, but not unpleasant. Again, background noise was kept at bay. He rated the phone a B+ for audio, not the top of the line, but a strong experience overall.

Speakerphone was also strong when I held the phone at hip level. Volume dropped immediately and I had to increase it all the way to 10/10. Voices sounded really tight and clean, without a lot of echo or fuzziness. There wasn't even a hint of background noise. Voices did acquire a strange robotic quality, and a little of the phone's formerly lispiness remained. Still and all, a great speakerphone.

My test partner agreed that volume dropped, but said he liked the quality. I still sounded a little mushy, and the phone did nothing to suppress echoes, but he didn't hear any distortion and felt comfortable speaking for some time.

Nokia Lumia 925 call quality sample (T-Mobile) Listen now:

Nokia Lumia 925 call quality sample (AT&T) Listen now:

While calling another cellphone indoors using the Lumia 925 on AT&T's network in San Francisco, the voice quality was impressive. On both ends, the call sounded clear, almost like I was standing next to the other person. The person I called also noted that my voice was clear even while I walked through a group of people talking loudly.

Once I ventured outside, my caller's voice sounded distorted and a bit robotic at times. Still, the overall experience using AT&T on the Lumia 925 was positive.

Performance: Speed, processor, battery life
The Lumia 925's 4G LTE performance is only as good as T-Mobile's network in your area. Here in downtown San Francisco, it's a reliable double-digit Mbps experience down and slightly less up.

Nokia Lumia 925 (T-Mobile)
Download Endomondo (3MB) 22 seconds
Load up Endomondo mobile app 4.6 seconds
CNET mobile site load 3.3 seconds
CNET desktop site load 15.2 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 27.8 seconds
Camera boot time 2.6 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 2.5 seconds with flash and focusing

Nokia Lumia 925 (AT&T)
Download Endomondo (3MB) 19.8 seconds
Load up Endomondo mobile app 3.1 seconds
CNET mobile site load 3.5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 12.5 seconds

The Lumia 925 uses the same processor as its siblings, Qualcomm's 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 chipset. It's plenty snappy, although certain things do take a few beats to open. Pretty much every Windows Phone handset I've used takes a few seconds to load the camera app, for instance, and the method of capturing a photo on the native camera app stalls shot-to-shot times, which means you could miss what you're looking for.

Overall, I can't complain about the phone's navigation or data speeds.

Battery life on the Lumia 925's 2,000 mAh battery seems fairly standard, especially since it's the same ticker behind the 920 and 928. It has a rated talk time of 12.8 hours and a rated standby time of 18 days. During our battery drain test for talk-time, it lasted 11 hours.

Note that a phone's battery degrades over time, so these numbers represent the best you can expect in the phone's lifetime. In general, batteries generally carry you a full work day before requiring a complete charge.

Storage space is a bit of a sore point for some with this device. Globally, it sells at 16GB or 32GB capacities, but the US model caps off at 16GB internal storage with 7GB of free online storage with Microsoft SkyDrive. That's generally enough space for average users, but since theres's no expansion slot on this device, people who typically download tons of videos and games may run into problems. The 925 has 1GB of RAM.

The 925 has a digital SAR of 1.4 watts per kilogram.

Who should buy it?
Physically, Nokia's Lumia 925 is a sleek, good-looking, tailored device that proves Nokia is adept at making phones with understated elegance, not just statement pieces. Indeed, Nokia has had a long history with design, and its chops show.

The fact that the 925 also backs up its hardware with Nokia's software apps and services goes a long way toward making this a top Windows phone. Those willing to shell out significantly more for the Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel camera looming (an AT&T exclusive in the US) will find more-impressive photos for sure, but also a blockier, more utilitarian design. If you're not a photos snob, the more budget-friendly 925 will do just fine.

Then there's the question of Windows Phone as a platform. The OS can't do as many fancy tricks as Android and iOS, it doesn't have quite the same amount of top-tier apps (though Microsoft has advanced on this tremendously), and it isn't as graphical to behold. Not everyone wants or needs the full-throttle smartphone powerhouse experience where everything is customizable, and Windows Phone has a few more tucked-away features than some folks realize.

I'd say, T-Mobile and AT&T customers on the lookout for a Windows Phone device in particular, or a straightforward smartphone in general should absolutely consider the Lumia 925 . Those seeking a blow-you-away camera experience on Nokia's most advanced phone yet, cast your eyes on the Lumia 1020 instead.


Nokia Lumia 925

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8
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